Ottawa

How black parents in Ottawa are talking to their kids about racism and police

Talking to children about George Floyd's death — and the ensuing anger, grief and exhaustion — hasn't been easy for many black parents in Ottawa.

Black parents are having difficult, but necessary, conversations about the death of George Floyd

Gianna Floyd, is the daughter of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Associated Press)

Talking to children about George Floyd's death — and the ensuing anger, grief and exhaustion — hasn't been easy for many black parents in Ottawa.

The handcuffed 46-year-old died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The incident, which was captured on video, was shared all over social media and sparked demonstrations around the world, including in Ottawa on Friday, denouncing anti-black racism and police brutality.

Talking about racism and interacting with law enforcement isn't easy, but many black parents believe it's critical to keeping their children alive.

'It's exhausting. It's tiring.'

Pthandi Simpson is a federal government worker who lives in Ottawa with her four-year-old son.

She hasn't specifically spoken to him about Floyd's death, but she said she has told him that people are angry because they're being hurt by others.

She has also read an age-appropriate book to him about racism so he understands what the word the means.

WATCH: Pthandi Simpson describes talking to her 4-year-old son about interacting with law enforcement.

‘He’s not going to be able to just ask questions’

2 years ago
Duration 1:15
Pthandi Simpson describes talking to her 4-year-old son about interacting with law enforcement.

"He knows that he's different. We don't have a lot of neighbours that look like us," she said. 

"There aren't a lot of people in his school that look like him [and] when we go to the grocery store he's mentioned … 'Nobody looks like me.'" 

Simpson said while it's important to know what happened to Floyd, she refuses to watch the video of his arrest.

"If that was my family member, my son, my brother, my husband ... I wouldn't want their death shown like that and millions of people just watching it," she said.

"The internet is a slaughterhouse of videos of our people online being killed. It's not good for my mental health [and] for children like George's daughter. It's exhausting. It's tiring. It does take a mental toll and when you're tired, it takes a physical toll on your body."

'Why do people hate black people?'

Ottawa author Keisha Blair said it's been challenging to explain what's happening to her three children who are between the ages of eight and 14. 

WATCH: Keisha Blair says seeing the brutal images of George Floyd's death has been hardest on her teenage son.

‘We have overcome so much’

2 years ago
Duration 1:56
Keisha Blair says seeing the brutal images of George Floyd's death has been hardest on her teenage son.

"All three of them have different kinds of questions on why is this happening," she said. 

"How can somebody just kill somebody in cold blood with people around looking? Why do people hate black people? There's all sorts of questions coming at you as a parent."

Blair said Floyd's death has been hardest on her eldest son.

"He's trying to educate his friends [about racism]," she said.

"He comes home sometimes and he tells me that people are using the N-word [and] that other kids are saying white privilege doesn't exist. He doesn't know how to counter these messages," she said.

'We have to demand changes'

Gwen Madiba, who works in the field of women's rights and youth empowerment, said the deaths of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man fatally shot while jogging in Georgia in February, have left her feeling traumatized as a mother of a one-year-old black boy.

WATCH: Gwen Madiba's son is only a year old, but she says one day she will have to warn him to obey police, even if they're wrong, to protect him from harm.

‘It’s a really difficult place to be in’

2 years ago
Duration 1:18
Gwen Madiba’s son is only a year old, but she says one day she will have to warn him to obey police, even if they're wrong, to protect him from harm.

"For me it's a really difficult place to be in, but I believe that things can change," she said.

"I believe that we have to come together as a society. We have to demand changes in the systems so that our children tomorrow don't have to suffer the consequences of our inaction today."

Madiba said when the times comes, she will instruct her son to listen to the police, even if they're wrong, for his own safety.

"Unfortunately, even when you try your best to cooperate sometimes, as you saw [with Floyd], they will still try to hurt you, they will still try to harm you," she said.

Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said Monday he takes responsibly for making police officers as "good as they can be not just internally but when they go out into the community" and that officers will be receiving "substantially different" diversity training but did not provide specifics. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Idil Mussa

Reporter

Idil Mussa is a reporter for CBC News in Ottawa.

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